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UK's Johnson calls on nations to increase support to COVAX initiative, net zero emissions goal

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson used his virtual attendance at the G20 Leaders' Summit to call upon all nations to come together and do more to support the COVAX initiative, which aims to ensure equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine for all countries, including low-income countries.

The UK has committed £619 million (US$803 million) to COVAX so far, with £548 million (US$711 million) exclusively for the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) financing mechanism that works to enable equitable distribution to lower-income countries.

Johnson also used the G20 to urge countries that have not yet done so, to commit to net zero emissions in order to ensure a sustainable future for all. This call comes ahead of the UK co-hosted Climate Ambition Summit to be held on December 12, 2020, which hopes to see more countries join the pledge to reach net zero.

Press release - UK government

In commemoration of 10th anniversary of OECD DAC membership, South Korea will hold series of events on COVID-19, climate, SDGs, ODA

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Korea has organized a series of meetings for the week of November 23-27, 2020, designating it as ‘Development Cooperation Week’ to celebrate the 10th anniversary of South Korea’s membership to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC).

Seminars, special forums, and a conference will take place throughout the week on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), South Korea’s official development assistance (ODA), the climate crisis, and COVID-19 response. The events are in partnership with the Korea International Cooperation Agency, civil society organizations, international organizations, and academia.

South Korea joined the DAC as the 24th member in 2010.

Press release – Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Korean)

European Commission President calls on G20 leaders to mobilize US$4.5 billion in 2020 for global COVID-19 response

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on leaders at the G20 Leaders' Summit to fill the US$4.5 billion gap in immediate funding needs of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), a global initiative to ensure affordable and equitable access for all to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.

Saudi Arabia hosted the virtual summit where leaders discussed the COVID-19 crisis, the climate crisis, debt relief for low-income countries, economic recovery, World Health Organization (WHO) reform, and other issues. Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel represented the EU at the summit.

G20 leaders committed to mobilizing the immediate global financing required for ACT-A and ACT-A’s COVAX Facility, the mechanism for the procurement and equitable distribution of vaccines.

Leaders will also continue to implement the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), which suspends bilateral debt service payments for lower-income countries, through June 2021. They also acknowledged the important role of the WHO, confirmed their commitment to financing Universal Health Coverage in low-income countries, and expressed a commitment to improving global pandemic preparedness, prevention, detection, and response.

Press release - European Council

G20 Leaders' Declaration - G20 Riyadh Summit

European Council President calls for international treaty for future pandemic prevention and response

During the recent virtual G20 Leaders' Summit (November 21-22, 2020), European Council President Charles Michel reiterated a call for an international treaty on pandemics to help prevent and respond to future pandemics. He suggested that the treaty should include all countries, as well as UN organizations and agencies, particularly the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Michel first suggested a global treaty in a side discussion with senior leaders during the Paris Peace Forum (November 12-13). He said such a treaty would show that leaders had learned lessons from the current pandemic and could help facilitate better international coordination on sharing medical equipment and exchanging information. 

Press release - European Council

At G20 Leaders’ Summit, Canada emphasizes inclusive COVID-19 response, tackling climate crisis

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participated in the virtual G20 Leaders’ Summit, stressing the "importance of G20 leadership and coordinated action" in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, building the economy, and tackling the climate crisis.

Trudeau emphasized the importance of upholding the rule of law and human rights, including women’s rights, to inclusively move toward global "peace, prosperity, and sustainability".

According to the Canadian government, it supports the conclusions from this meeting which are outlined in the G20 Leaders’ Declaration, which also addresses issues such as welcoming the first G20 Anti-Corruption Ministerial Meeting, being "committed to implementing the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) including its extension through June 2021", and endorsing the Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) Platform with the goal to reduce emissions.

Press release - Prime Minister of Canada

Germany's Merkel calls for participation in ACT-A COVAX Facility, WHO reforms

At the virtual G20 summit on November 21-22, 2020, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for more global efforts in securing equitable access to COVID-19 tools. Emphasizing the importance of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO), Merkel called for more participation in ACT-A's COVAX Facility, the mechanism that aims to procure and equally distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

The Facility, led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, aims to provide two billion COVID-19 vaccine doses for low- and middle-income countries. While the international community has provided around US$5.0 billion to the Facility so far, more global effort and funding will be needed to ensure a fair distribution and to tackle the global challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, Merkel said.  

At the same time, she expressed concerns that while wealthy countries have already secured access rights to promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates, no major deals have yet been closed for low-income countries. 

Merkel further called for a strengthening of the WHO and more sustainable WHO funding to guarantee better cooperation and independence.

News article – Zeit Online (in German)

News article – Deutsche Welle

US President-elect Biden plans to rescind 'global gag rule', but damage done will not be easily reversed

US President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rescind the infamous Mexico City Policy, widely known as the 'global gag rule', which eliminated funding to international NGOs which counsel on, provide, or legally advocate for abortion. According to global health experts, however, the reversal of the policy will not automatically reverse the far-reaching damage it has done. 

The policy was originally instituted by the Reagan administration in 1984, but the most restrictive version of the Mexico City Policy to date was put into place by US President Donald Trump. Biden's rescission of the policy within the first days of his presidency would follow the precedent set by Democratic presidents before him.

According to policy experts, there will still be a lot of work for the Biden administration to do after reversing the rule. It will take time to revise standards and contracts as well as to clarify the new spending rules to by now-wary foreign NGOs. Organizations will have to wait before they can hire more people, open more clinics, expand programs, and, in the case of large organizations, they have to wait until they bid on the next cycle of projects. 

For those NGOs that decided to forego US funding rather than abide by the rule, the funding will take time to be restored. Some, like the International Planned Parenthood Federation or MSI Reproductive Choice, may not want to seek US funding again, knowing the disruptions to their services that can come with the rule's potential reinstatement in four or eight years with a new president, further destabilizing their operations.

The Trump administration still has time to further expand the Mexico City Policy (which it renamed 'Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy') in the coming months, which would require extra time and work for the Biden administration to reverse once Biden assumes office in January of 2021.

News article - Devex

Australia allocates US$16 million for combatting domestic anti-microbial resistance

Australia’s Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, announced Australia’s recent federal budget contained A$23 million (US$16 million) to undertake activities prioritized in Australia’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy – 2020 and Beyond.

This includes enabling quick response capacity when multi-drug resistant organisms are detected. The strategy will focus on resistance in both humans and animals.

Press release - Department of Health

COVID-19 vaccines must first be available to the most vulnerable in all countries, "not all people in just a few countries," says German Federal President

In a guest commentary of the German newspaper, Tagesspiegel, German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has urged for a globally fair distribution of future COVID-19 vaccines. Given that the EU would likely end up having access rights to more vaccine doses than needed within the EU, Germany and the EU should send a clear political signal to be willing to share these with low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), he stated.

Steinmeier pointed to the fact that while EU member states had already secured access to promising vaccine candidates, more than half of the world’s people live in countries lacking the means to acquire such access rights early in the process. Germany and the EU have from early on supported the COVAX Facility which aims to ensure that over 90 LMICs will have access to two billion vaccine doses until the end of 2021. However, some major donor countries have not contributed to the extent possible yet, Steinmeier noted.

He further emphasized that ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines would not solely be an act of solidarity but also an economically meaningful response. To respond as a global community to the pandemic, “we would have to recognize that it is in our own, enlightened interest that some people are vaccinated in all countries first, and not all people in just a few countries”, Steinmeier stated.

News article – Tagesspiegel (in German)

Australian university provides interactive map and sector details of Pacific Islands' COVID-19 responses

Four centers at the Australian National University in Canberra have collaborated to produce an interactive map of the COVID-19 responses by Pacific Island governments.

Weekly updates are collected by the Australia Pacific Security College with additional input by groups including the Development Policy Centre and the Department of Pacific Affairs. Each country has a pop-up box indicating its responses to COVID-19 and an interpretation of the impact on the ground.

The Australian Pacific Security College also provides a tracking matrix of sector responses, based on information from the South Pacific Commission in New Caledonia. This includes detailed information on health, education, and transportation.

Interactive Map - Asia & The Pacific Policy Society

Tracking Matrix - Australia Pacific Security College

European Commission signs fifth contract on future COVID-19 vaccines with CureVac; sixth contract to be approved with Moderna

The European Commission signed its fifth contract on behalf of EU member states to purchase 405 million doses of a future potential COVID-19 vaccine with CureVac, a German biotechnology company.

The deal includes 225 million doses of CureVac’s vaccine candidate, with the option to request 180 million more. Member states will be able to donate doses to lower- and middle-income countries or redirect them to other European countries.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) had previously signed a €75 million (US$88 million) loan agreement with CureVac for the development and large-scale production of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The European Commission has also signed similar vaccine deals with AstraZenecaSanofi-GSK, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV (Johnson & Johnson), and BioNTech-Pfizer. The Commission has completed exploratory talks with Moderna, with the contract to be approved on November 25, 2020.

Press release - European Commission

Influential US senator calls for reengagement in global health through COVAX Facility, WHO

US Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware and a close ally of President-elect Joe Biden, called for the US to reengage in the global effort to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, including global vaccine development and distribution.

Coons, who is among those thought to be in the running for Secretary of State in Biden's administration, called on the US to "lead by example" to reverse the harm that the Trump administration has done to its nation's standing in the world.

The steps that Coon recommended the Biden administration should take include joining the COVAX Facility to support vaccine procurement and equitable distribution, as well as rejoining the World Health Organization (WHO), from which the Trump administration announced its withdrawal.

He also addressed the need to rebuild US capacities around global health security and surveillance, as well as to elevate global health within the US national security operations.

News article - Devex

Australia announces support package for Southeast Asian and Pacific recovery, including US$165 million for Mekong region

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a range of measures to assist the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the ASEAN-Australia Biennial Summit held virtually in November 2020.

The new measures include providing:

  • A$232 million (US$165 million) to the Mekong region for economic development and integration;
  • A$70 million (US$50 million) for ASEAN's infrastructure development and technical assistance;
  • A$65 million (US$46 million) for the sustainable development of marine resources; 
  • A$46 million (US$33 million) for additional capacity building to support the implementation of both the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the ASEAN-Australia and New Zealand Free Trade Agreement; and
  • A$21 million (US$14 million) to the recently-launched ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases, as part of Australia's recent A$500 million (US$356 million) commitment to support access to COVID-19 vaccines in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Press release - Prime Minister of Australia

Research and development of COVID-19 tools shouldn't count as ODA, says UK parliamentary report; disagreement sparks over international ODA rules

A new report by the UK parliamentary International Development Committee (IDC) on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in low-income countries has called on the UK government to ensure that its finite official development assistance (ODA) budget is not used to support the general research and development (R&D) of COVID-19 tools which benefit all countries, and to rather reserve the ODA for supporting the distribution of tools to low-income countries and tackling the secondary impacts of the pandemic.  

This call is in line with the current international rules on ODA spending, set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC), which say that COVID-19 spending from the ODA budget must be on items that disproportionately support low-income countries and do not provide global public goods for all. However, the report stated that "not all members agreed with the Secretariat’s interpretation of the rules in this instance," and the rules could be changed this month, depending on what OECD DAC members agree to.

The IDC report noted that, to date, the UK has spent around £310 million (US$401 million) of the UK development assistance budget on R&D for COVID-19 tools so far, but the IDC can not yet tell whether or not this spending had breached the rules.

Press release - Devex

Report - UK Parliament

EU to contribute additional US$118 million in grants to COVAX Facility for global COVID-19 vaccine access

European Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, announced during a session of the Paris Peace Forum (an annual event with the theme this year to improve global health governance and green financing) that the EU will be contributing an additional €100 million (US$118 million) to the COVAX Facility, a global mechanism to equitably source and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

This is on top of a previous EU contribution to the COVAX Facility of €400 million (US$471 million) in guarantees in August 2020.

COVAX, which is run by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), is part of the ‘vaccine pillar’ of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global collaboration to develop, manufacture, and equitably distribute COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics.

The EU’s contributions will help to finance access to vaccines for lower- and middle-income countries that are unable to self-finance. The funding will come from the European Development Fund’s reserves and will go directly to Gavi.
Press release - European Commission

Spain announces US$59 million pledged to Gavi in June will go exclusively to COVAX AMC

While virtually attending the November 2020 Paris Peace Forum (an annual meeting to improve global governance), Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that the €50 million (US$59 million) that Spain pledged to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance in June 2020 will be entirely funneled into the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) for increased COVID-19 vaccine access for low- and middle-income countries.

During his speech, Sánchez underlined the importance of developing new vaccines to effectively tackle the COVID-19 crisis. He also reminded audiences that vaccines for HIV and malaria have not yet been developed, and he stated that international cooperation and multilateralism should be strengthened in order to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Press release – La Moncloa (in Spanish)

Japan pledges US$1 million for COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund, support for ongoing US$19.0 billion 'Japan-ASEAN Connectivity Initiative'

Japan announced that it will cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to fight the COVID-19 crisis by strengthening supply chains and utilizing digital technology. Japan additionally pledged US$1 million to the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund for regional support.

Japan stated that it will support hard and soft infrastructure development in ASEAN's ongoing ¥2.00 trillion (US$19.0 billion) 'Japan-ASEAN Connectivity Initiative' (which includes building transnational land, sea, and air corridors to increase access and trade), as well as human resource development for 1,000 individuals over the next three years.

Japan also emphasized its goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 and its desire to work with ASEAN countries to further reduce emissions.

Press release - Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Joint statement - ASEAN-Japan Summit

South Korean president announces updated policy for stronger partnership with Southeast Asia

South Korean President Moon Jae-in unveiled the New Southern Policy Plus at the 21st Republic of Korea-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit held on November 12, 2020. This policy is an updated version of the New Southern Policy which aimed to build a stronger partnership with the ASEAN member states.

Under the goals of expanding people-to-people exchange, increasing trade, and enhancing trust as a key partner country, the seven core areas of cooperation are as follows:

  • Cooperate on comprehensive health and medicine post-COVID-19;
  • Support human resource development and share South Korea’s education model;
  • Promote mutual cultural exchange;
  • Establish the foundation for mutually beneficial and sustainable trade investment;
  • Support infrastructural development of rural and urban areas;
  • Cooperate on future industries for mutual prosperity; and
  • Cooperate in non-traditional security sectors.

Regarding health, South Korea will not only increase the amount of official development assistance (ODA) on health but will also support the fundamental strengthening of health and medical systems over the long term.

News article – Chosun Biz (in Korean)

European Commission presents plans for European Health Union developed based on COVID-19 lessons

The European Commission (EC) published a Communication on its plans to build a European Health Union, alongside three legislative proposals to address cross-border health threats, strengthen the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and extend the mandate of the European Medicines Agency (EMA). 

While the EU does not have many health powers, given that health is considered a member state level competency, the EC has proposed new EU-level health mandates that would not require EU treaty changes (all health recommendations would be non-binding).

The plans to build a 'European Health Union' were developed based on the early lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis, including that the EC’s response was hampered by weak EU health agencies and the lack of EU health policies and capabilities. The EC hopes that its plans will address the “gaps” in EU health powers to enable the EU to better lead and coordinate responses to future emergency health threats.

In order to strengthen the European Health Union, the plans propose that the ECDC provide recommendations on response measures and that the EU recognize emergencies and also provide advice on response measures. Further suggestions include:

  • A new EU Executive Steering Group on medical devices;
  • A permanent EMA emergency taskforce;
  • Strengthened EU clinical trials infrastructure;
  • The development and implementation of an EU health crisis preparedness and response plan;
  • ECDC epidemiological surveillance;
  • New European Health Data Space; and
  • The creation of a contact tracing technological system. 

The EC also plans to create an ‘EU BARDA’ modeled after the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), but the legislative proposal will not be presented until late 2021.

News article - Euractiv

Communication - European Commission

Cross-border health threats legislative proposal - European Commission

ECDC changes legislative proposal - European Commission

EMA changes legislative proposal - European Commission

European Commission reaches fourth deal on future COVID-19 vaccines with BioNTech and Pfizer

The European Commission signed its fourth contract to purchase 300 million doses of a future potential COVID-19 vaccine with the BioNTech-Pfizer alliance. This follows the companies’ recent announcement that their vaccine candidate has so far shown to have a 90% efficacy rate. However, exploratory talks for a deal had already been completed in September 2020.

The deal includes 200 million doses of BioNTech-Pfizer’s vaccine candidate, the option to purchase 100 million more, and the potential to donate doses to lower- and middle-income countries or to redirect to other European countries. This is BioNTech-Pfizer’s largest initial order of vaccine doses so far.

The vaccine candidate is currently undergoing Phase III clinical trials. It will be manufactured in both Pfizer’s Belgian and BioNTech’s German production facilities.
The European Commission has also signed similar vaccine deals with AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV (Johnson & Johnson).
Press release - European Commission
Press release - Pfizer